“Should work,” I say, though for the most part I have not a clue what he’s going on about.
“Yeah,” he says skeptically. “Now if you can just get me one point twenty-one gigawatts and a flux capacitor, we’ll be in business.”
I laugh. “Doubting Thomas. Don’t be so negative. This is going to work.”
“How do you know?” he asks.
“Because it has to.” I try to keep my eyes wide open as my head really starts to pound.
* * *
Two fronts are set up in the house, which hasn’t seen this much movement since … possibly ever. On the upper level, Thomas and Morfran are shaking a line of powdered incense along the top of the stairs. Morfran’s got his own athame out, cutting the sign of the pentagram in the air. It’s nowhere near as cool as mine, which I’ve got in its strung leather sheath, slung over my shoulder and across my chest. I’ve been trying not to think too much about what Morfran and Thomas said about it. It’s just a thing; it’s not some inherently good or inherently evil artifact. It has no will of its own. I haven’t been hopping around and calling it my Precious all these years. And as for the link between it and the Obeahman, it’ll sure as hell get severed tonight.
Upstairs, Morfran is whispering and turning slowly in a counterclockwise circle. Thomas takes up something that looks like a wooden hand with stretched-out fingers, and sweeps along the top of the steps with it, then lays it down. Morfran has finished his chant; he nods to Thomas, who lights a match and drops it. A line of blue flame surges up along the top floor and then smokes out.
“Smells like a Bob Marley concert in here,” I say as Thomas comes downstairs.
“That’s the patchouli,” he replies.
“What about the wooden finger broom?”
“Comfrey root. For a safe house.” He looks around. I can see the mental checklist running behind his stare.
“What were you guys doing up there, anyway?”
“That’s where we’ll do the binding from,” he says, nodding toward the second level. “And it’s our line of defense. We’re going to seal the entire upper floor. Worse comes to worst, we regroup there. He won’t be able to get near us.” He sighs. “So I suppose I’d better go start pentagram-ing windows.”
The second front is making a clatter in the kitchen. That would be my mom, Carmel, and Anna. Anna’s helping Mom find her way around a wood stove as she tries to brew protection potions. I also catch a whiff of rosemary and lavender healing waters. My mother is a “prepare for the worst, hope for the best” type person. It’s up to her to cast something to lure him here—aside from my rope-a-dope, that is.
I don’t know why I’m thinking in code. All of this “rope-a-dope” business. Even I’m starting to wonder what I’m referring to. A rope-a-dope is a fake-out. It’s a boxing strategy made famous by Ali. Make them think you’re losing. Get them where you want them. And take them out.
So what’s my rope-a-dope? Killing Anna.
I suppose I should go tell her.
In the kitchen, my mother is chopping some kind of leafy herb. There’s an open jar of green liquid on the counter that smells like a mixture of pickles and tree bark. Anna is stirring a pot on the stove. Carmel is poking around near the basement door.
“What’s down here?” she asks, and opens it up.
Anna tenses and looks at me. What would Carmel find down there, if she went? Confused, shuffling corpses?
Probably not. The haunting seems to be a manifestation of Anna’s own guilt. If Carmel encountered anything, it would probably be some weak cold spots and the occasional mysterious door shutting.
“Nothing we need to worry about,” I say, walking over to close it. “Things are going pretty well upstairs. How are they in here?”
Carmel shrugs. “I’m not much use. It’s sort of like cooking, and I can’t cook. But they seem to be doing okay.” She crinkles her nose. “It’s kinda slow.”
“Never rush a good potion.” My mother smiles. “It’ll go all wonky on you. And you’ve been a big help, Carmel. She cleaned the crystals.”
Carmel smiles at her, but gives me the eye. “I think I’ll go help Thomas and Morfran.”
After she goes, I wish she hadn’t left. With just me, Anna, and my mom in here, the room feels strangely stuffed. There are things that need to be said, but not in front of my mother.
Anna clears her throat. “I think this is coming together, Mrs. Lowood,” she says. “Do you need me to do anything else?”